Push to Talk

Push to Talk

Tackling social isolation through new technology in Liverpool

Push to Talk is an innovative way to tackle social isolation and loneliness. Using LoRaWAN, and soon 5G, the system works by placing a button in the home of elderly people that may struggle to get out and socialise. When this button is pressed, they receive an incoming call from another person that has also pressed the button, allowing conversation to strike up and friendships grow. It lets the people that want to talk have conversations with each other.

Push to Talk is a project by DefProc, an SME based in Liverpool.  Run by Jen and Patrick Fenner, the company was set up when they struggled to find a cost effective way to prototype their new tech ideas.  They have worked with the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, and the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool.

The idea for Push to Talk came from a health and social care hack day set up to tackle challenges facing the sector in the city of Liverpool – how to keep people out of hospital for longer. Studies have shown that social isolation can be a contributing factor to frequent and/or avoidable hospitalisation.

Progress so far

The Push to Talk system won the hack day challenge which gave them money for a proof of concept, and a further InnovateUK bid allowed them to do a wider trial with Hampshire Council. Now the pair are focused on local social care in their home city. The system has been trialled with 50 users in Liverpool, set up in users’ own homes to allow them access to people that want to talk. The system comes with a built in reporting function so that users are protected from potential malicious actors.

The roll out has not been without obstacles. Patrick Fenner explains: ‘When we were building the system, we discovered that 50% of the people that we were hoping to deploy systems to didn’t have broadband. Utilising the Things Network and LoRaWAN helped us to work around this – the system didn’t need individual SIMs as the data transmitted was only tiny. LPWAN was the easiest way around that with no costs for connectivity. It also allows for a plug and play solution which meant that social care staff could deploy it easily and quickly.’

Moving forward

Push to Talk is being deployed to a further 200 participants as part of the 5G health and social care testbed.

Liverpool 5G Consortium has been awarded £3.5 million by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) 5G Testbeds and Trials programme, exploring whether great health and social care can be delivered more effectively in the community, with the help of with digital applications supported by 5G. Gateways and nodes for both LoRaWAN and 5G are currently being deployed throughout the Liverpool region.

The connectivity for Push to Talk is being enabled by 5G which gives always on coverage. LoRaWAN still transmits the request to talk but the bandwidth, low latency and steady signal provided by 5G ensures that the system is always on and readily available, even where the participant does not have broadband.

Expert view

Social isolation and loneliness has a large impact on the health and wellbeing of people that may not have the resources or the ability to get out of teh house. Through implementing new technologies, projects like this fantastic Push to Talk rollout can help to keep people talking and engaged with the world around them, allowing them to make new friends and forge new relationships to better allow them to keep those important social connections which keep them out of hospital and long term care facilities, in their own homes.

IoTUK Staff
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